With veterinarian’s help, Burbank animal shelter thrives

After more than 50 years as a veterinarian in Burbank, there’s nothing small about Martin Small’s contribution to Burbank’s animal shelter.

“I have never done anything more satisfying than what I’ve done since I’ve been here,” he said.

After spending the last several years working full time to establish the shelter’s medical program, Small, 82, is now an on-call surgeon.

Before he set foot in the shelter in 2004, cats suffered from contagious respiratory diseases and dogs were prone to kennel cough and parvovirus. Animals were routinely put to sleep.

Small initially vaccinated every animal that entered the shelter and taught the staff to remain sterile when moving from room to room. Euthanasia rates dropped drastically. Impressed with the turnaround, city officials carved out a medical budget for the shelter that’s still in effect today, supporting two part-time vets.

Growing up in South Los Angeles, Small said he knew by middle school that he wanted to become a veterinarian. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, he studied at UC Davis and then settled in Burbank with his wife, Judy. They raised four children, and he operated his veterinary practice from 1960 to 2000.

Judy died in 2003, but Small remains in their large Burbank house with Lupe, a Chihuahua he rescued and named after the actress Lupe Velez, whom he was “madly in love with” as a teenager.

Denise Fleck, president of the Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter, says Small’s legacy is his compassion and no-nonsense approach.

Once Fleck’s personal vet, Small put down her yellow Labrador, Sunny, saying, “She’s with the angels now.”

“I’ve unfortunately had to send other dogs since then on,” Fleck said. “And most of the other veterinarians said, ‘They’re gone.’ ”

What Small said “has stuck with me for over 20 years,” she said.

At a clinic Saturday, Small spent five hours vaccinating dogs and cats with the assistance of dozens of volunteers.

The low-cost clinic is one of the biggest fundraisers for the shelter’s volunteers, who most recently bought a bone saw with money they raised so Small could perform amputations on animals that would otherwise die from their injuries.

This year the clinic welcomed cats for the first time, after Warner Bros. donated a dressing room trailer in which to treat the felines.

“This is so satisfying because it’s a chance for me to give back to the community,” Small said. “It’s just a good feeling to give away your services.”